Encounters with a Yeti cuts deep with dreamy, ambient music
Like mad love, it engulfs you, then unfolds you; one minute it builds you whole, then the next it shreds you to little pieces. Listening to Encounters with a Yeti (EWAY), by all accounts, is a highly emotional experience.
As an instrumental rock band, EWAY need not utter a single word. Their amalgam of hypnotic riffs, distortion, sudden speed-shifts, tempered by healthy doses of noise, can show a spectrum of emotions: love, loss, desire, despair, maybe even that feeling of descending into darkness. Their kind of music is the kind that stares you in the eyes, locks you in a gaze, and when you think you are reaching a certain kind of daze, drops you, leaving you crashing down and out of breath.
As if we cannot be content with the emotional overload we get from their recently-released debut album “Pilot” or from going to any of their live gigs, we recently met with them at their rehearsal studio in Parañaque.
'Alloys bring the future closer'
Onstage, it would seem like they are a reticent lot, they would only speak when needed to, and would mostly be preoccupied with their own little world.
But being at their studio tells us otherwise. There, they seem to never run out of conversation material: from the impeachment trial to the country’s economy, to biking, to, perhaps, a bad deal they got from a car salesman. “That man is unbelievable,” guitarist Ponchie Buenavista grumbled, as he opened a can of cold beer.
It was a warm night, and the air-conditioning unit couldn’t seem to do its job. So we assuaged ourselves with cold cans of beer and the candidness that came with it. Bassist Ross Pleyto and drummer Caloy Tiangco just came in with boxes of pizza, while Ponchie, guitarist Niño Valmonte, and keyboardist Des Lawas were already telling us how they came together. It could have been just another night at the EWAY lair, with the group going nostalgic as they recalled their beginnings.
Apparently, most of them had been in one band or another since 1991. Ross and Ariel Mesina (another EWAY drummer) was, for instance, together in the then-famous Pedro’s Cannabis, while guitarist Ramon Rivera was also with other famed bands, Inquisition and Euthanasia. As most of them had been friends since college, they found themselves slowly coming together performing in one band. The heat of the nineties band scene eventually fizzled out, but Ross and Ponchie went on collaborating and expanding their musical horizons.
“The new millennium saw Ross, Niño and I reformed as The Christmas Lights. We played a number of gigs at Café Saguijo [in Makati] and eventually Des hooked up with us to play keyboards,” Ponchie went on. “Ramon came back from an extended stay in Hong Kong and Ross and I invited him to join the band before he could get any ideas of going solo ala Yngwie Malmsteen. We had already adopted by then the name ‘Encounters with a Yeti’ with Ariel taking over drum duties.”
As for their name, it came from, as what Ponchie called it, his “proclivity for the paranormal.”
“It stems from a childhood interest and being a big fan of the 'X-Files' in its early days. ‘Encounters with a yeti’ was a line that kept popping up in online websites every time I’d browse for bigfoot eyewitness accounts,” he explained.
'Ride the fiery breeze'
Settling on instrumental music was like a gamble to them, considering that Ponchie has always been used to writing lyrics and singing.
“One night after a gig, Ponchie sat down with the band and said ‘I wanna do something else. Mind you, we will not make money nor will we get noticed with this kind of music, but we will get to do something that is different. Are you with me?’” Des recalled how their ride toward instrumental rock began.
Apparently, Ponchie was wrong with his assumption of “not getting noticed” as Toti Dalmacion of Terno Recordings added him to his roster of talents. It was an opportunity that came to them via a gig in Cubao X where Paul Yap and Carlos Tañada of Up Dharma Down (also under Terno) were in the audience.
Since being with Terno means more exposure, it also means more people started identifying EWAY’s music with foreign instrumental post-rock acts like Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky. Post-rock, apparently, is a genre they didn’t want to be pigeonholed into.
"We really don’t believe in genres. Initially, we weren't even aware that there was such a genre [post-rock],” Ponchie related. “We've always been tinkering with instrumentals since we began and listened to artists who are given to adding an instrumental track or two in their releases like Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Steely Dan, New Order, Sam Prekop to name a few.”
Being an instrumental rock group, though, comes as a challenge. With no lyrics and no flamboyant vocalist to dazzle the audience, they can only rely on their own musical skills. They said they feel like each member is under a microscope every time they play.
“A slip, a missed note, is instantly noticeable. We even lack the good looks to cover those up with an impish smile directed at the crowd,” quipped Ponchie. “We aren't particularly skilled individually and prefer dynamics over technicality. In our case, it can be said that the sum is truly greater than the parts.”
Local indie scene habitues appear to be receptive of the direction this group has taken. Even rock acts known in the circle has been supportive. Sleepwalk Circus' Fran Lorenzo, for instance, became a fan of their music. For their debut, “Pilot,” Fran lent his own talent.
"The Ringmaster (Fran) also produced the album. We're grateful for his help," said Niño. "He even went as far as take the mixes to Indonesia for final mixing and to have friends play the string parts we arranged."
What came out was a journey into the sublime. “Pilot” provides a musical backdrop for an imaginary film that seems to automatically play in our heads once we start listening to their music. Instant favorites are the tracks “Alloys Bring the Future Closer,” “The Sleeper,” and “Ride the Fiery Breeze,” all awash with creamy guitar effects and dreamy textures.
Listening to their album and listening to them live, though, is an altogether different experience. Live, they hold greater power over their listeners.
That night in their studio, as they started to rehearse for an upcoming gig in Saguijo, we became their sole audience, enraptured by the wonder that was unfolding before us. —KG, GMA News